Adrenal Cancer

What is Adrenal Cancer?

Adrenal cancer, as the name suggests, is a cancer of the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands are located above the kidneys. This cancer affects single or both triangular glands. Our adrenal glands produce specific types of hormones. These hormones give instructions to most of the tissues and organs in our body.

Cancer of the adrenal is also called adrenocortical cancer. It affects individuals of all age groups. But children below age five are more prone to adrenal cancer. Individuals between the ages of 40 and 50 years are also prone to this cancer. Growth within the glands is largely benign or non-cancerous, including pheochromocytoma or adenoma.

Early detection can help in potential cure. However, treatment is less effective once cancer has spread beyond the glands. Treatment is used for minimizing the recurrence or progression of this disease.

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    Types

    There are three types of adrenal cancer. These are:

    Adrenocortical Carcinoma

    • This cancer type of the most prevailing.
    • It is also called ACC (adrenal cortex cancer or adrenal cortical carcinoma).
    • Cancer usually starts from the outer layer of the cortex.
    • It often goes unnoticed until the tumor grows significantly.
    • Adrenal cancer is often diagnosed after symptoms have started.
    • These can be pain or always feeling full resulting in weight loss.
    • Adrenocortical carcinoma can produce excess hormone.
    • This can result in weight gain, early puberty, and the growth of facial hair.
    • An adrenal tumor is considered cancerous once its size reaches 5-6 centimeters in diameter.

    Neuroblastoma

    • Infants & children below age 10 are affected by this cancer type.
    • The cancer is found in the medulla’s nerve cells that are still developing
    • Cancer can be detected early on with its unique signature. However, identifying the source is difficult as the cells spread swiftly.
    • ACS states that 1 out of 3 neuroblastomas begin at the adrenal glands.

    Pheochromocytoma

    • This adrenal cancer starts in the core region of the medulla.
    • The cancer is caused by adrenal producing cells
    • Adrenaline is responsible for regulating the vital functions of our body, such as blood pressure and heart rate
    • This tumor can cause profuse sweating, high pressure, anxiety, and racing heart

    Symptoms

    Major symptoms of adrenal cancer are:

    • Unintended weight gain or weight loss
    • Muscle deterioration or atrophy
    • Stretch marks of purple or pink color
    • Excessive facial hair
    • Excessive hair loss
    • Irregular periods
    • Abdominal bloating
    • Nausea
    • Backache
    • Appetite loss
    • Backache

    Causes

    Experts are yet to confirm the cause behind adrenal cancer. Cancer develops when DNA mutations occur within the adrenal glands. Our DNA gives a certain set of instructions to our bodies. A mutated DNA will instruct cells to grow aberrantly and live. Conversely, healthy cells die during this process. These aberrant cells grow and become a tumor. These tumor cells then divide and spread across other locations.

    Risk Factors: The risk of adrenal cancer is higher among those with genetic conditions. These disorders increase the chances of other cancer types. These hereditary symptoms can be:

    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
    • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
    • Endocrine neoplasia
    • Lynch syndrome
    • Carney complex

    Stages

    Factors determining the tumor stage are disease age, disease spread, and personal features of the patient. There are four stages of adrenal cancer.

    Stage I: This is the beginning stage of cancer. In this stage, the size of the tumor is less than 5 cm in diameter. It is located inside the glands at this stage.

    Stage II: In this stage, the size of the tumor is above 5 cm in diameter. However. The cancer is confined to the gland.

    Stage III: In this stage, the tumor becomes even bigger. It has reached the nearby lymph or fat nodes adjacent to the gland.

    Stage IV: This is the last stage of the tumor. Here the tumor has reached organs and nearby lymph nodes. The cancer cells can be found at faraway locations in the body. Common sites are the lungs, bones, peritoneum, and liver.

    Diagnosis

    Early diagnosis can improve the treatment outcome for adrenal cancer. Cancer diagnosis depends on various factors such as patient age, tumor spread among others. Tests can be a physical examination and other imaging tests. Common diagnosis tests for adrenal cancer are:

    Urine and Blood Tests: Cancer results in unusual hormone results, including aldosterone, androgens, and cortisol. Urine and blood tests reveal these hormones.

    Imaging Tests: Doctors conduct imaging tests to identify the growth of cancer. It can also help detect cancer spread outside of the adrenal glands. These can be liver or lungs. Imaging tests include PET scans, MRT, or CT scans.

    Lab Analysis: Your doctor can also order a lab analysis. The adrenal gland is tested in a lab. The doctor may recommend removing the gland. Lab tests can help determine the cancer spread and its stage. This helps in choosing the right treatment plan.

    Treatment

    Surgery is the most preferred treatment for cancer of the adrenal glands. The doctor will suggest the removal of the entire gland. This helps in reducing any recurrence. Other treatments are also available if a surgical procedure is not an option.

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